The arc of all failed relationships is remarkable, but how had Mirna arrived at the point where she was lying awake next to Tony plotting to destroy him? If Mirna could pinpoint the moment her annoyance with Tony mutated into a darker fixation, she would have said it was the night she questioned him about her weight loss. She prefaced her questioning by telling him that she did not want to trap him.
“I’ve noticed you a bit friskier lately. Why?”
“Hmmm. Maybe. I don’t know,” Tony said, nonchalantly stretching and snuggling up with her in preparation for sleep. “Maybe it’s been all the trips I’ve had to take recently. I miss you babe.”
“You don’t think it has to do with my weight loss? I want you to be honest. Do I turn you on more now or before when I had a few extra?”
“You turned me on before and you turn me on now, honestly. I like you whichever way. It’s all good.”
“No but…Come on, you must prefer one over the other, no? You prefer me now or before?”
“Babe, no lie, I liked you with the extra meat, and I like you now slimmer. I like you whichever way. I love you.”
“So, you mean to tell me that if I were to regain the weight it would be just the same to you? Come on, seriously?”
“I love you now, I loved you then, and I will always love you, even if you gain more weight.”
This was the expected and proper answer most people would give to slip out of relationship discomfort. Mirna conceded, however, that Tony’s answers were sincere. After all, he had asked her out and brought her to live with him early in their relationship, when she was still obese. It was that night, after Tony fell asleep, that a wakeful Mirna began piecing together a plan to demolish Tony. She lay motionless in bed as one grand thought unlocked other thoughts of finer detail. Her mind was like a bright computer screen with an image of a computer screen with an image of a computer screen and so on.
Mirna and Tony met in a local commuter school. Mirna’s major focused on computer animation. She was into anime and video games–that was her nerd subgroup. Tony’s major focused on web development with a minor in business. His choice of major and minor were sober decisions originating from fantasies he and his high school friends had of becoming Bitcoin billionaires. It was inevitable that Mirna and Tony would cross paths as freshmen in a required course. It was not inevitable, given their diverging nerd affiliations, that they would develop romantic feelings. Their casual conversation was spurred by the geographical proximity of their desks and their mutual dislike for their computer programming professor. The irony was not lost on Mirna that their relationship was forged by a shared rejection of Professor Gundersen–why, she wondered, had Tony’s personality diverted so much from that initial rejection, the very element that drew them romantically?
One of the bright computer screens in Mirna’s mind led her to reflect on love. Love depended on rejection, Mirna thought as she stared at the pockmarked ceiling. It was impossible to love a person without rejecting others. Love required specificity; otherwise, it was watered-down. That was what had been turning her off to Tony–she was in a relationship with a watered-down human being.
Initially, Mirna could not conceive of her and Tony being a couple. She liked him. She really liked him. She liked how tall he was, how lanky. She had told a friend, half ironically, half sincerely, that a guy she was talking to in class had a “dreamy smile.” In class she would stealthily glance over and appreciate his arms. She loved how veiny his arms were, the soft hairs on them, the proportionality of his fingers. Tony was a drawing out of an anatomy book. She never came on to him because she figured she had no chance. Tony was extroverted, charming, open to conversation with anyone in class. She was sure she was not the only one in the class attracted to him. She was the opposite of Tony in every way. There was also the most obvious obstacle standing in the way of dating Tony–her obesity. She had put on a lot of weight the two years prior to meeting Tony. There was that one day of brutal realization. She was still in the early conversation stage with Tony; it was right after seeing Taxi Driver. Mirna went to the full-length mirror in the closet and tried delivering De Niro’s dialogue. She could not get into character. What she saw in the mirror was not a young livewire De Niro, but a pathetic and barren Venus of Willendorf. She was in college and still a virgin, a formless blob. She was convinced she had no chance with Tony.
But then it somehow happened. They continued talking after the semester and decided to go out on a date. Mirna remembered their first date and how that very night Tony began exhibiting the character trait that now tormented her. Tony quickly learned of how finicky Mirna was with food, so he chose a safe Italian chain restaurant. First date pleasantries were exchanged, and both parties were on their best behavior. Mirna ordered a pasta primavera and Tony ordered a well-done steak with mashed potatoes on the side. The waiter was a middle-aged guy, overworked, underpaid, tired of his life. Mirna remarked that there was no way, given how busy the restaurant was, that the waiter was going to remember their appetizers, drinks, and food specifications without writing down their order. Sure enough, a different waiter brought the appetizers along with the main course and Tony got a rare steak with steamed vegetables. Mirna expected the normal course of behavior—slight disappointment, a flagging down of the original middle-aged waiter, a civilized request for the order to be taken back and corrected.
“Enjoy,” Tony said, seemingly oblivious to the errors on his plate.
“Yeah but,” Mirna started, with a confused smile and tilt of her head, “this isn’t what you ordered. We can return it. I don’t mind.”
“It’s all good,” Tony replied. “Was sort of in the mood for veggies.”
At that moment, the middle-aged waiter appeared at their table. “Hope everything is OK. If you folks need anything else, feel free to ask.”
“It’s all good. Thank you.”
“We can return your order. I can wait. I really don’t mind,” she said reassuringly.
“It’s all good. I like veggies and steak cooked in whatever way. It’s all good.”
Mirna remembered how the rest of the evening pleasantly unfolded, but also how peculiar she found Tony’s ‘it’s all good.’ She attributed his behavior to his not wanting any turbulence marring their first date. That first ‘it’s all good’ led to many more. Mirna was aware that in the early days of the relationship any annoying character quirks in Tony were covered over by several factors. Tony was her first lover, her first kiss, her first stable grounding. Mirna came from a severely dysfunctional family. As soon as she hit eighteen, she moved out and began living with roommates. She quickly realized that there was one constant in roommate life–rules were established, which were broken or ignored, which begat more rules, which begat more infringements, which begat a total collapse of morale. Fairly early in the relationship, Tony offered her to move into his room. She did not have much stuff–just clothes and her computer–so she jumped on the offer.
An outsider would have thought that Mirna was making a disastrous trade exchanging roommates for living in Tony’s bedroom and cohabitating with his family; however, Tony’s parents and younger brother were extremely hospitable. Mirna was permitted total access to the house and given full privacy within Tony’s bedroom. Tony’s mom was especially sweet with Mirna. Once Tony’s mom started figuring out Mirna’s picky eating preferences, she began cooking dinners especially catered to Mirna. The entire family adjusted to Mirna’s culinary peculiarities without any fuss. She was treated as one of the family. Nothing was ever imposed or asked of her, though she always made sure to pick up after herself and not give the appearance of taking advantage of the hospitality; after all, she was not even asked to pay rent. The one and only thing Tony did ask of her was to look after his mother.
Tony’s mother did not work. She was diabetic and from time to time had severe epileptic attacks. Tony had begun going on numerous business trips for his startup. Tony’s father and brother were away at work and school most of the day, so Tony trained Mirna on how to shield his mother away from seizure triggers–pulsating lights, light reflecting on standing water, music with high pitched wind instruments. Tony also trained Mirna on how to administer seizure first aid. Mirna was conscious of the fact that it was not too much that was being asked of her in exchange for how Tony’s family, and especially his mom, treated her. After only four months, Tony’s mom declared at the dinner table that she considered Mirna the daughter she never had. Mirna blushed in front of everyone. No one had ever been that openly loving with her. She had grown close to Tony’s family. Sitting there at the dinner table she briefly let go and allowed herself to be swept away by the moment, by the affection she felt toward Tony’s family, by the entire Norman Rockwell vibe. But she was quick to catch herself. She had to be careful not to give in completely. If push ever came to shove, if her relationship with Tony ever dissolved, she knew they would always have Tony’s back. This is what people did. They set limits. Blood was usually thicker, not in her case, but yes, usually.
Two weeks after Mirna’s restless night, she got a call from Tony. He was ecstatic. He needlessly shouted into the phone to break the news to Mirna–the money guys were going to commit. It was a done deal with the San Francisco guys. He told her he was going to spend the next four days doing some shopping before coming back home. Mirna knew exactly what ‘shopping’ meant. Tony would pop in and out of jewelry shops and get caught up in the whirl of prices, haggles, carats, and cuts–the type of information mayhem perfectly in sync with his ADD. It was never a mystery when Tony would propose. He had told her that as soon as he got some money guys to buy into his startup, he would pop the question. Mirna found the marriage proposal’s dependence on the money guys artificial, but hey, that was typical Tony–nothing really made any sense, there was never any rational plan.
Tony was due back in town in five days. Mirna did not have much time left to carry out her plan to demolish Tony. Her motive was not necessarily to hurt Tony, break his heart, or seek revenge. It was bigger and more significant than just breaking up with Tony. Her goal was to bulldoze Tony, crumble his personality, institute a Year Zero cleansing of his psyche. She rationalized her plan by adopting Tony’s favorite corporate phrase—’creative destruction’. The goal was not to create a better Tony, a sparkling new Tony for his future partner. She did not want him to ‘grow’ from this personal setback–wasn’t that the usual corporate bullshit he always took from all his entrepreneur retreats and workshops? Mirna did not want him to experience a pain that did not kill him but made him stronger. She wanted him to crumple beneath a pain that left him weaker. Mirna’s plan had to preempt his proposal. The dissolution of the relationship had to be his initiative.
Mirna began visiting Reece more frequently after her weight loss. He would have gladly slept with Mirna if she would have given him the green light, even in moments when he was in a relationship. Mirna could have confessed to an infidelity with Reece and left Tony. But it was not so easy. To begin with, she had no desire to sleep with Reece; and, even if she did, early in their relationship, Mirna had posed adulterous hypotheticals in order to test Tony. Tony would always circle back to the same answer–he would accept her infidelity and forgive her.
Mirna saw Reece as the one friend on which she could lay out all the evidence against Tony, the one capable of hearing her testimony and understanding that her obsession with Tony’s personality quirk was not histrionic behavior, but a real torment. Mirna gave Reece examples of Tony’s infuriating personality, of how Tony had no convictions, no demarcations, no anchors. She told Reece of how she noted quite early that Tony took no political stances. It was not that Mirna wanted him to hold any specific political views. In fact, she would not have minded if he would have been an apolitical buffoon. The problem was that Tony would agree and support whatever political views were predominant in a room. In the presence of his family he was as rightwing and religious as the most rightwing member of the family, his mother. At dinner, his mother would sing the praises of the president–his law and order speeches, his appointment of conservative Supreme Court justices, his dog whistling provocations, his views on the proper place for women. Tony would join the chorus and say things like, “This country needs more Christians in office…Liberals have allowed this country to go to hell…We need government out of our lives…” –the greatest rightwing hits.
Mirna wished she had recorded one of these dinner conversations and created a split-screen video contrasting how Tony acted around her friends. Mirna reminded Reece of the night she took Tony to Reece’s house party. Reece remembered noticing Mirna flustered most of the night. He was not able to isolate her and talk to her due to the hurly-burly of the evening. She recounted to Reece the reason for her moodiness that night. The party was attended by anarchists, hackers, socialists, lefty accelerationists, and anti-capitalists of all stripes. Tony spent the night going from group to group affixing himself to different discussions. Tony’s schmooze was second nature. If the discussion focused on appropriating data from big dot coms–“Yeah, you’ve got a point there, you’re right.” A heated accelerationist discussion–“I totally see what you’re saying. Even if everything goes to hell, yeah, it’s all good.” A back and forth between creating a hierarchical revolutionary model versus a dispersed one–“Both of you have good reasons for saying that. Yeah, it’s all good.” Tony gave no rebuttals. Whatever perspective he was fed, he incorporated it with a “yes,” a “fair point,” a “yeah, yeah, I totally get it,” or an “I totally see what you mean.” And of course, there was Tony’s signature “it’s all good” which he sprinkled into most of his comments that evening and which infuriated Mirna to the point where she was very close to causing a scene in front of everyone.
In the most heated discussion involving identity versus class politics Mirna noticed that the young man and woman debating, after each delivered their counterpoint, would look at Tony, almost as if for approval. Tony’s yesses had burrowed into people’s subconscious. His pleasantness had transformed him into the evening’s fair arbiter. It irked Mirna that these people were seeing him as some sort of objective evaluator of information. No, she thought; they did not understand that there was no evaluative function within Tony. Mirna’s mind was capable of a strange dualism. When she was engaged in conversation her consciousness would split into flesh-and-bone Mirna–the person having the conversation in the real world–and a floating ghost that looked down upon her. This ghost would critique flesh-and-bone Mirna’s utterances, would judge how caught up she was in the flow of the world, and would scrutinize the façade she was presenting to the world. Mirna’s internal universe was one of constant doubt, critique, excision of personal traits. Mirna was never fully in the world. Tony, on the other hand, was a smooth surface that was always in the world. Beneath that smooth surface, though, there was no there there.
Toward the end of the evening, Mirna heard Tony parrot a phrase uttered earlier in the night by Reece–“Capitalism is eating its own insides. We need a van gward.” Mirna did not find his pronunciation endearing. She later followed Tony to another conversation with a clump of anarchists in which he altered a phrase uttered earlier in the evening by a fiery young man–“We need a loose structure because we can’t repeat the higher-archee…” Mirna was embarrassed by the flub. Tony had no shame. He would bungle words and continue speaking as if nothing had happened. Mirna, fatigued by Tony’s antics, informed him that she wanted to leave. Mirna described for Reece her interaction with Tony on the ride home.
“Was that an act you put on tonight?”
“I agree with everything that was said there tonight.”
“Wait…how can you sit at dinner with your parents and sound like you’re to the right of Hitler and then tonight…”
“I think there’s truth in all views.”
“Tony, that’s crazy. You’re everywhere on the spectrum.”
“Fine. I can live with that. It’s all good.”
Reece played his role of disinterested judge. He hypothesized that perhaps Tony was dissimulating in front of his parents, or perhaps dissimulating in front of Reece’s house party friends to gain everyone’s approval. Mirna knew better. She explained to Reece that Tony was not masking some core beliefs in order to be liked. There was no core Tony. Tony was an artificial waterway through which all sorts of ideologies freely traversed.
In an effort to comfort Mirna, Reece tried being charitable in his assessment of Tony. “Maybe he’s figuring these things out as he goes along. I don’t know, maybe he’s trying to synthesize these ideas, you know?”
This set Mirna off. “No, no no no Reece. He’s not synthesizing anything. He’s empty. He’s…I don’t know…a shoe without a foot. He has no spine. He’s never shouted anything back at the screen in rage. He’s never had beef with anyone. I don’t know why I want this so bad; but, why can’t he give me anger, outrage, rejection of something? The guy has no soul. I want him for one day, just one day, go out and ransack the villages of his enemies Genghis Kahn style; fuck, or if not that, at least get a little outraged by the guy who cuts in line at the grocery store. Trust me, you don’t know the half of it.”
Reece indeed did not know the half of it. Nothing was rejected, nothing was alien, Tony incorporated anything and everything as if he had no internal cop, as if his internal voice said, “everything is allowed to be seen here.” He was always connected–phone, computer, television. He would fixate on a new interest and then drop it. He did not drop interests out of boredom or failure. He dropped interests because the appearance of a new interest would bump off an old one. They ran the gamut–acrobatic yoga, building bird houses, muay thai, obscure board games, skyscraper appreciation, gamelan, hiking, smoking meats, metallurgy, and on and on and on. Mirna told Reece about a period of about two months in which Tony got into medieval history. It was so ironic that the period of history most known for its pervasive thou shalt nots was being incorporated by the ultimate permissive figure.
If anyone could help Mirna it was Reece. She was good with computers but not at Reece’s level. Reece and his friends had been able to hack into banks, police databases, and even her college’s electronic grade roll. Mirna had been on the verge of revealing her plan to Reece, but she always stopped short. The very same day Tony called from San Francisco Mirna went to see Reece. Tony’s marriage proposal was imminent, and her time window was small. Mirna had trouble coming out and asking Reece for help. The conversation with Reece began contemplatively.
“What goes on in the mind of animals when they stare at us and see us with our eyes glued to our phones?” Reece reserved these types of questions for Mirna. Their other friends would not entertain these types of questions unless they were high, and only then, they would entertain them not so much because of the effects of pot and alcohol, but because these were the types of questions they were supposed to ponder when they were high. “Animals are so different from us.”
“Reece, are you kidding me? We are becoming more like animals every day. Have you seen a squirrel? They are as ADD as we are. They are eating and their heads are on a constant swivel. They munch on that nut and are looking for their escape routes, eyeing the bird on the tree, hearing a dog bark inside the house, feeling the vibrations on the ground from another squirrel. Tony is a squirrel.”
“I’m like that too. Tony is no different from us.”
“He’s at another level. I could never have this conversation with him. His attention span would not allow him to focus on anything for more than five seconds. Lately it’s even worse with this stupid startup.”
“So those guys are going to buy in?”
“Yep. They’re in. And it’s the stupidest idea. Maybe it’s just that Tony speaks their language. He is such a good salesman. He’s tried his pitch on me. Imagine a world, blah blah, in which a tiny implanted chip can fire off your neurons at an unprecedented rate, blah blah, your brain supercharged, capable of faster functioning. In short, a world full of Tonys. We will all be twitchy squirrels in the future.”
“Mirna, I get it. I get why Tony irritates you.”
“It’s weird. I really liked Tony once upon a time. Now I’m embarrassed to be his girlfriend…wait, his future wife. Oh God, I dread the thought. I don’t know. I want to be with someone I can have conversations with. Even if I can’t find that right away, I am willing to be alone for a bit. I want to start over.”
“You can start over anytime,” Reece said, hoping that the conversation would turn in the direction of how he, Reece, was the one capable, the one who all along, was having these types of conversations with Mirna.
“Maybe I’m growing up and he hasn’t, never will. I’m sick of him jumping from this NexNueron bullshit he’s selling, to talking about him wanting to get into hang gliding, to…you know what he told me yesterday he wants to get into? Bug fighting. Yeah, apparently it’s a thing in Japan and he’s been watching videos of guys staging insect fights. I can’t stand it. He’s all over the place. He’s rubbing off on me. My attention span has changed. It’s like his ADD has weakened my defenses. I need him out of my life.”
“You sound fed up. Break up with him. Why have you stuck around so long? Is it the rent-free living? You can always crash here.”
“I know. Thank you, Reece. No, it’s not the rent-free life. No. I don’t know why I’ve stuck around so long. I ask myself that all the time. But I know I’ve had enough; I can’t marry him. It’s also… I am embarrassed to admit this but…You’re going to judge me, but fine. I want you to judge me. I hate the fact that he goes around with this bullshit startup idea and people throw money at him. I have sent my portfolio to so many animation studios–you have no idea how many–and no one’s bit. Doors open for Tony while for me not a single gatekeeper cracks open the door.”
“I am sensing a bit of jealousy.”
“Yes. I am jealous. He convinces people of his bullshit and no one gives my work the time of day. I guess it’s more than jealousy. I hate how the world is set up. I hate how the Tonys of the world just glide by so easily. I wish people like him, for once in their lives, were faced with a big no, an obstacle.”
“You’re going to have to face him and tell him you don’t want to marry him.”
“I want more than that. You’re going to think I’m crazy, and fine, I am. I am obsessed with seeing him reject something, say no to something. I want to see genuine disgust over something. I want to see him dry heaving over something totally…I can’t explain it…I want to see his humanity and then leave…don’t know why I’m so fixated on this…does our generation know how to say no to anything?”
All this made sense in Mirna’s head. When she tried to express it to Reece it all sounded jumbled and incoherent. She wanted to disentangle the knot she had just presented to Reece. She decided to finally let Reece in on her plan, at least, she thought, there was clarity in that. “I have this vision in my head. I want to do something to him. I want him to scream at me that he’s fed up with me, leave me, reject me forever. I want him and his crowd to click on the biggest Mirna dislike button. I thought about the one thing that would hurt him the most, the one person that…His mom is super into her church. I see the woman on the church’s website all the time. Every day she browses the church’s calendar of events. I was thinking of making that page pulsate with flashing lights.”
Reece was disoriented. “I am not following. And that would accomplish what?”
“His mom’s epileptic. I want to induce a seizure; and, even if that doesn’t give her a seizure, I want to confess to him that I was behind the attempt to make her go into a seizure.”
Reece’s body recoiled. He had sensed for a while that Mirna was traversing a difficult period in her life; but he would have never expected this type of cruelty. His attraction and admiration for her had built her up in his imagination. He did not know what to make of her admission. His mind felt like that of a squirrel. He held Mirna’s sadism at the center of his attention; but, in the periphery he felt more attracted to her than ever, felt pity for Tony and his mom, felt that the archetype of Tony and every yes man in the world had to be wiped clean, was scared of Mirna, was scared of himself, was looking for the quickest exit out of the apartment, was thinking of the most polite way of asking Mirna to leave, was thinking of spending the rest of his life with her.
Mirna noticed Reece’s eyes darting from her to everywhere else in the living room. His eyes finally settled on her. His expression toward her shifted from one of fear to one of tenderness. The ghostly Mirna floating above felt disgusted by Reece and secretly hoped he would immediately throw her out, say no to the whole thing, reject her, present her with evidence of how sick and twisted she was.
“You need me to help, don’t you?” He did not wait for her answer. “I’ll do it.”
Ray Lobo lives in Miami and is an educator and aspiring writer.